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Tue 26 October 2021

Byline Times and The Citizens catalogue the 12 most notorious contracts awarded to private sector firms during the Coronavirus pandemic so far

On 22 December, a poll was released by YouGov. The research company had surveyed people on “how Brits said their 2020 had been”. The majority, 52%, of respondents said their year had been “bad” or “terrible” with 45% saying it had been “good” or “okay”.

Just 2% of people said that their year had been “great”, which led Labour MP Justin Madders to speculate upon the identity of these individuals. He said they all must have won large contracts from the Government for the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Indeed, since the onset of the pandemic, Byline Times has been tracking the bizarre, occasionally inexplicable, deals awarded for the supply of face masks, ventilators and testing kits. In total, The New York Times estimates that roughly £8 billion of the £16 billion publicly-available deals awarded so far have been clinched by “companies either run by friends and associates of politicians in the Conservative Party, or with no prior experience or a history of controversy”.

With Christmas just hours away, Byline Times – in collaboration with The Citizens – decided to compile some of the firms that have been at the top of Boris Johnson’s gift list this year.


Ayanda Capital – £252.2 million

Almost certainly the most notorious contract awarded during the Coronavirus pandemic has been to Ayanda Capital, a firm that specialises in “currency trading, offshore property, private equity and trade financing”. The company was awarded a £252.2 million deal for the supply of face masks.

The deal was brokered by Andrew Mills, who simultaneously acted as an advisor to Ayanda and was a member of the Government’s Board of Trade. Stunningly, officials did not record a conflict of interest when awarding this contract, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

The Government paid £155 million for face masks with ear loops, yet later changed its specifications – so the masks have not been used by frontline workers. Ayanda says it is “very disappointed” with this decision and remains “confident” that its masks “are fit for use by NHS workers”.


Meller Designs – £171 million

Meller Designs has been awarded multiple deals by the Government for the supply of hand sanitiser and face masks.

It typically specialises in supplying home and beauty products to high street retailers, including Marks & Spencer. The firm is owned by David Meller – who has donated nearly £60,000 to Conservative politicians and the central party since 2009. Meller was also finance chair of Michael Gove’s Conservative Party leadership bid in 2016, and was a trustee of the think tank Policy Exchange, founded by Gove.

Records show that junior health minister Lord James Bethell – along with former chairman of the Conservative Party Lord Andrew Feldman – held a meeting with Meller Designs, a month before the Government started awarding contracts to the company.

The firm recorded a turnover of £12.8 million in 2019 and £13.7 million in 2018. A Meller Designs spokesperson told The Times: “We are extremely proud of the role we played at the height of the crisis and managed to secure more than 150 million items of PPE.”


PPE Medpro – £202 million

In existence for a mere 44 days, a firm called PPE Medpro was awarded a £122 million contract for the supply of gowns. In total, the firm has been awarded Government deals worth £202 million.

The company’s website claims that it is “a specialist manufacturer of personal protective equipment”. However, its founding directors appear to have experience in other fields.

The firm was set up by Anthony Page and Voirrey Coole, both of whom work in fiduciary services – private trust and wealth management.

Both Page and Coole work for Knox House Trust, a corporate wealth and investment management firm that is based on the Isle of Man, which is considered to be an offshore tax haven.

A week before the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) contract was awarded to Medpro, the Knox House employees were joined in their start-up by Maurice Stimler – appointed as a director on 18 June.

Stimler has extensive business experience, with 24 current or lapsed directorships listed on Companies House. One of Stimler’s ventures is Loudwater Trade and Finance, which “sources, distributes and sells branded products around the world”.

The contract had been under discussion “for a considerable time” before PPE Medpro was incorporated on 12 May, Page told the Guardian, via his lawyer.


Pestfix – £349.2 million

Pestfix, a pest control and PPE company, has won multiple high-value contracts from the Government.

According to the NAO, the firm was included in the Government’s “high-priority” supplier lane “by mistake”. This channel was used to process bids from firms that were referred by MPs, ministers or officials. “High-priority” firms were far more likely to obtain contracts than others.

The Good Law Project is currently taking the Government to court over its awarding of contracts to Pestfix.


Hinpack – £30 million

The Government awarded a multi-million-pound contract for the supply of test tubes to the ex-landlord of Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock’s local pub.

According to the Guardian, Alex Bourne sent a WhatsApp message to Hancock in March, offering his services, although the minister denies being involved in the awarding of the contract.

Bourne’s company, Hinpack, was at the time manufacturing disposable catering items and had no experience in the highly regulated medical products sector.

In the intervening period, however, Hinpack “retooled” and began manufacturing components for COVID-19 tests. This was “by no means complicated” and was “well within our client’s existing skillset”, Bourne’s lawyers told the Guardian.


EMS Healthcare – £5.5 million

Hinpack is not the only firm with links to Hancock that has benefitted from Government contracts during the pandemic.

EMS Healthcare was awarded a year-long, £5.5 million deal for the provision of mobile testing units in September. The chairman of EMS Healthcare, who has been a director of the company since 2013, is Iain Johnston – a former business partner of Shirley and Robert Carter, Hancock’s mother and stepfather.

EMS Healthcare does specialise in the provision of mobile healthcare technology. Its website reads: “Our bespoke mobile healthcare vehicles can adapt and deploy the right facilities to meet any challenge, and we will do it safely, quickly and to the very highest clinical specifications.”

And, despite the links between Hancock’s family and the chairman of EMS Healthcare, Byline Times has no evidence to suggest that the Health and Social Care Secretary or his family members were involved in the arrangement of this contract.


The Plymouth Brethren – £1.1 billion

As revealed by Byline Times and The Citizens, contracts worth up to £1.1 billion have been awarded to companies with ties to the Plymouth Brethren – an evangelical Christian sect.

One of the largest recipients, a global commercial interior design firm called Unispace, has accumulated deals worth some £670 million for the supply of PPE. The CEO of Unispace is Gareth Hales, the son of Exclusive [Plymouth] Brethren world leader Bruce Hales. Unispace admits that the founders of the company met through the church in 2008, although denies that the company is owned or run by the Brethren directly.

“Like any other religious group or church, many of our members run their own businesses, and these organisations are completely separate from the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church,” a Brethren spokesperson told Byline Times. “Any contractual agreements between the Government and these independent businesses are totally unrelated to the church.”


Randox – £480 million

The global healthcare firm has won two contracts for the provision and processing of COVID-19 testing kits – not without controversy.

On 9 April, three days after being awarded its first contract, Randox participated in a call with Lord Bethell and Owen Paterson, Conservative MP for North Shropshire.

Since 2015, Paterson has worked as a consultant for Randox, earning £8,333 a month for 16 hours of consultancy. Previously, neither Paterson, Randox nor the DHSC have answered questions about whether the MP helped the firm to procure the contract, awarded without competitive tender.

Care homes and members of the public were later told to immediately stop using Coronavirus testing kits produced by Randox after safety problems were discovered. It has been reported that 750,000 of the firm’s testing kits had to be recalled, which the DHSC called a “precautionary measure”.


P14 Medical – £276 million

A company owned by a former Conservative councillor, that specialises in supplying equipment for people with chronic pain, was awarded sizeable Government contracts for the supply of gowns and masks.

Steve Dechan, who resigned as a Conservative councillor in August amid scrutiny over the contracts, told The Sunday Times that he was “chuffed to bits” about the recent success of his firm.

Dechan confirmed that he has subsequently been able to buy a £1.5 million, 17th Century Cotswolds mansion and pay himself a substantial salary. Defending the work of P14 Medical, he said: “We’ve absolutely done this on merit. We’ve sent things by plane, by train, by ship. We’re delivered everything we were asked to deliver.”

The company made a loss of almost £500,000 last year and Dechan says that the firm had been struggling for a number of years.


Globus (Shetland) – £93.8 million

As revealed by Byline Times, another beneficiary of the Government’s spending spree has been Globus (Shetland) – a firm that has donated more than £400,000 to the Conservative Party since 2016.

The company, which was awarded a £93.8 million Government contract for the supply of respirator face masks, does appear to specialise in the manufacture of PPE, stating on its website that it has 25 years’ experience in supplying “industry and healthcare”. This includes experience in manufacturing respirators.

However, the firm also has a history of political financing, having made a series of donations to the Conservative Party since 2016. The size of these gifts increased significantly in 2019, up from £52,500 the previous year.


Luxe Lifestyle – £25 million

In April, a company called Luxe Lifestyle was awarded a £25 million contract for the supply of PPE to the NHS.

According to Companies House, the business was incorporated by fashion designer Karen Brost in November 2018. However, as revealed by Byline Times, the firm appears to have no employees, no assets and no turnover. 


Saiger LLC – £389 million

As reported by Byline Times in October and November, a firm owned by a Miami-based fashion designer has won multiple contracts for the supply of PPE to the NHS.

There is some confusion over the listing of the contracts on the UK and EU contracts portals. Byline Times believes that the total value of these deals may amount to £389 million, though some estimates have been lower.

Saiger LLC is owned by Michael Andrew Saiger, who is also the founder of fashion accessory brand Miansai – an amalgamation of Saiger’s first, middle and last names – which he created while studying at university in Miami.

BBC News subsequently revealed that Saiger had paid a “go-between” £21 million in UK taxpayer cash to help source the products.


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